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Congo Christmas – The Best Souvenir Shop?

Street shot of the shop

Street shot of the shop

My niece’s stay is shorter than mine and she is the first to ask about where we can get souvenirs. Our mission is not near a hotel, and there doesn’t seem to be a touristy part of town. When you travel far, you do want gifts to take home for family and closest friends, for whoever is watching your house or the pets, etc. Papa A and Bintu take us closer into town to a terrific little shop called Likembe Shop.

You might wonder how I knew we were closer to downtown? That’s easy. The shop was beyond where the pavement begins.

Is this shop the best? What would make me say so?

What stood out at first was the posted price list. From Crete to Tunisia, Ethiopia to Kinshasa, I’ve learned that there are tourist prices and the locals’ prices. Although all are negotiable, pale faces and those with foreign accents will pay more. This practice is normal and expected on both sides. Personally I think of it as a visitor tax, simply another expense of travel.

Not at Likembe. Items are marked with a letter and number code (e.g. A 3) and prices are posted on several *signs around the store. (*well-worn A4 paper in plastic sleeves) The shop keeper shows me how to find the code and reference the list which she gives me to carry around.

Oh how refreshing to shop on a budget, find prices marked, and choose among options without concern for being too heavily taxed. ūüôā

And the options! They have most everything: wood carvings, woven baskets, leather works, banana leaf figures and art, painted notecards, tribal masks, animal print wooden bowls, jade jewelry, and what might be ivory (illegal to import to US). Lovely reasonable, and profuse.

That’s not the BEST part.

After a small discount haggle on the total and giving our Congo francs to 4 elderly folks with their hands out near the door, Bintu tells us that the Likembe Shop runs the storefront next door which is not a business. Once a week they open that front and run a sort of food bank. A portion of their sales are used to purchase small bags of rice, cassava flour, and other foodstuffs which they distribute to those in need.

Kinshasa, the capital of the country, had nothing to compare. Taken together these aspects (i.e. posted prices, options, and food bank) make the Likembe Artisan Shop the best souvenir store in the Congo.

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Kristin King is a Christian author and president of the non-profit Future Hope Africa. She recently returned from ¬†visiting FHA’s education mission in eastern Congo and is blogging from her travel journal about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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